The topic for day four of Severe Weather Awareness Week is lightning. We’ll look at what causes lightning, facts about it, and how to stay safe when lightning is in the area.
So, what causes lightning? During a thunderstorm, rain and hail moving through the clouds begins to build up a charge (think about what happens when you shuffle around on carpet in your socks during the winter). Collisions in the storm cause electrons to separate within the storm clouds, giving the storm a negative charge at its base. There are positive charges located higher up in the storm and at Earth’s surface. We know opposite charges attract, so when the charge becomes strong enough, lightning occurs.
As we all know, lightning is dangerous. Did you know lightning is five times hotter than the surface of the sun? The sun’s surface is 10,000°F and lightning is 50,000°F.
Lightning is also very common across Nebraska and Iowa. On average, Nebraska is struck by lightning 773,000 times per year. Iowa is struck an average of 681,000 times each year. Overall, the United States experiences 22 million lightning strikes per year.
Because lightning occurs so often and is so dangerous, it’s important to be safe when lightning is close. Always remember; “When thunder roars, go indoors!” If you are stuck outside during a storm, it is NOT safe to shelter under a tree. Lightning is looking to make it to the ground as quickly as possible and the tree you are under just might be its preferred path! If you’re wanting to go back outside after a storm, make sure you wait at least 30 minutes after the last lightning strike before heading out again.